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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Ukraine’s Kalinina dedicates win to homeland after beating a Russian to reach Rome final

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ROME—Anhelina Kalinina’s family home in Ukraine was destroyed in a Russian attack last year.

Her elderly grandparents have had to relocate from the southern city of Nova Kakhovka—which is held by Russian forces—to Kyiv.

Kalinina’s parents work as tennis coaches in Kyiv and she said there was a “huge, huge bomb near them, near their academy” a few days ago.

So when Kalinina beat Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, at the Italian Open on Friday to reach the biggest final of her career it seemed only natural that she dedicated the victory to her war-torn country.

The half-filled Campo Centrale supported Kalinina loudly and some fans held up Ukrainian flags.

“It’s really important to win every match, because of what Ukraine goes through,” Kalinina told the crowd. “I really hope that I give a tiny, small light, maybe some positive emotions for my country. I really hope that Ukraine a little bit enjoys (this).

“I was feeling so much support,” Kalinina added later. “The whole stadium was cheering me up. … I have never experienced something like that.”

She and Kudermetova did not shake hands after the semifinal, which lasted nearly three hours.

Kudermetova was asked if she gets along with Kalinina while their countries are at war: “We’re here, and we love what we do here. Doesn’t matter from which country you are. We’re athletes and that’s it. We are here to play tennis.”

Kalinina was born in Nova Kakhovka.

“I have no connections with Nova Kakhovka anymore because everyone is in Kyiv,” Kalinina said, adding it took some convincing to get her grandparents to leave after a bombing near their home.

“They are very old people,” she said. “They’re living, 60-65 years there. We kind of pushed them, like, ‘You have to go.’”

In Saturday’s final, Kalinina will face Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, who beat 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 in a semifinal that was suspended midway through the second set due to rain.

Rybakina was born in Russia but represents Kazakhstan. She’s friendly with Kalinina, who used to work with her coach, Stefano Vukov.

“I always like cheering for her. Same whenever I win, she’s always supporting (me),” Rybakina said. “We have good relationship. I’m happy that we’re going to play (the) final.”

Rome is the last big warmup before Roland Garros starts in nine days.

The men’s semifinals on Saturday feature Holger Rune against Casper Ruud, and Stefanos Tsitsipas against Daniil Medvedev.

It’s been quite a run for the 47th-ranked Kalinina, who was coming off the longest match on the women’s circuit this season—a three-hour and 41-minute victory over Beatriz Haddad Maia in the quarterfinals.

Kalinina also eliminated former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the third round and got by Madison Keys, another established American, in the fourth round.

Kalinina’s only previous final was in Budapest in 2021.

She’s playing without a clothing sponsor. “We’re hoping (for a sponsor). I have to improve my tennis; be high in the rankings,” Kalinina said. She will move to at least No. 25 by reaching the final—and into the top 20 if she raises the trophy. She’s been using her earnings on tour for relief efforts in Ukraine for family and others.

The 12th-ranked Kudermetova also reached the semifinals at the Madrid Open last week, where she lost to top-ranked Iga Swiatek.

While Kudermetova had the more powerful serve—nine aces to Kalinina’s two—Kalinina was able to extend points with quickness around the red clay court, notably running down a drop shot and replying with a delicate lob winner midway through the second set.

Kalinina also dictated points by stepping further into the court than Kudermetova to find sharper angles.

Still, Kudermetova won 16 straight points to close out the second set and erase a 5-3 deficit.

But Kalinina rushed out to a 4-0 lead in the third and quickly closed out as rain arrived.

“She started to play little bit more aggressive than me,” Kudermetova said. “She decide to go through it (the ball). This make the difference in the final set.”

Image credits: AP

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